Tag Archives: Research

Defending the 50s Housewife, Or Why You Should Learn To Lize

When I watch Mad Men, I look at Trudy Campbell, always so put-together and cheery and totally in favor of Pete, and I think, my God, I could never be you. Surely, I’d explode. Or make someone else explode.

But now, one brave blogger, over at Jen but Never Jenn, is on a one-week mission to prove it’s possible. She is taking on the 50s Housewife Experiment: Husband Obsessed Edition with exemplary vigor, all the way down to boosting his ego with some cute little star-shaped cookies. Who needs rally girls when you can have a wife?!

I was devouring Day 1 of this hilarious experiment, when I stumbled on a habit of highly effective housewives that all of us today could take a cue from.

So what is that habit? Let’s take a look:

“He then unloaded what was on his mind (trying to get the swing of things at his new job, especially the lingo and acronyms they heavily use) and I attempted to “lize” (listen with my eyes) throughout it all. … As suggested, I gave no advice but encouraged him to keep at it, that he’d get the hang of things and gently reminded him about raising his EQ (Enthusiasm! Quotient!). This is so *not* my style of motivation normally (I like to come up with solutions, not cheerlead), so I found this to be largely an exercise in restraint on my part.”

I imagine that most modern women would second her objection to lizing. (Major technical advances have allowed us to listen with our ears and actually process the information).

But today, I’m going against my natural instinct, arguing in favor of lizing and cheerleading and raising his EQ.

So get out your pom-poms, and hear me out.

Last year, I worked as a research assistant in a psych lab studying couples. I spent hours watching couples discuss personal problems. Not problems in the relationship, but problems in one partner’s personal life. The study is still ongoing, but from my personal observations, the partners that offered subtle encouragement (i.e. head nods, empathic gestures, restatements) were much more effective supporters than the ones that offered advice.

To illustrate this, I think of myself, sharing one of my problems with my husband. I’m usually upset that he’s giving too much support, rather than too little. Sometimes I want to brainstorm solutions together, but that’s usually once I’ve calmed down. Before that, I just want to vent, or hear my thoughts out loud, or know that he’s on my side. I just want to be a mess for a minute. When he does step in, his help can feel patronizing, like he doesn’t believe I can handle it myself. Sometimes I need him to just trust that I’ve got it and be with me.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in that.

In 2006, a series of studies tested the effectiveness of different types of support. The results showed that invisible support—recognized only by the provider, not the receiver—was the most effective. Visible support, like advice, left people no better off (or worse) than if they got no support at all.

So what is so bad about advice?

Well, the study showed that unsolicited advice was interpreted as a lack of confidence and made the recipients feel incompetent. The authors concluded that the key to effective support is to communicate confidence in the person’s capacity to handle the problem.

Watching Mad Men, I notice that the men give plenty of advice to their wives. It makes them seem controlling, or superior, and the women seem to absorb the sense of incompetence that kind of support implies.

I wonder if, or why, as women became more liberated, we started emulating male support, offering unsolicited advice to our husbands. Couldn’t we instead encourage our husbands to become cheerleaders for us, confident in our ability to cope? Maybe, in our effort to equalize the playing field, we got a little off track. Maybe we were the ones who had it right to begin with.

So ladies, let’s bring back lizing. And this time, let’s get our men to lize back.

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Dating Rorschach: Looking for Meaning in the Cold Shoulder

On a cross-country flight to California, I made the mistake of watching He’s Just Not That Into You. I actually thought I might enjoy it. I mean, the book is amusing, and the Sex and the City episode that inspired it all is one of my all-time favorites. But the women in the movie just seemed so desperate and, for lack of a better word, nuts.

Sure, I can think of countless occasions when I’ve sat down with my girlfriends to discuss the top 400 reasons why Guy X hasn’t called. And I can certainly think of many men who drove me to that point too.

But I know something that the writers apparently didn’t: Women are not insane. We are not desperate. We do lead full, wonderful lives, with or without a man. Contrary to popular belief.

A few months ago, I was sitting at dinner with a friend of mine. She was telling me about a guy she’d seen a couple of times, who she really wasn’t into. But she couldn’t get him out of her head because he wasn’t returning her calls. After several hours running through the reasons why he went AWOL, she sent him a text with this message: “When you don’t call, I think you’re dead.”

She never heard from him again.

Now, it would be easy to say that she’s crazy. I assure you: She is not. And I also assure you that her experience is pretty near universal. She just cuts to the chase much better than the rest.

If this reaction is so common, then is there a chance that this seemingly irrational response might be rational, or at least predictably irrational? I think there is.

In 2008, Science Magazine published a study on participants’ pattern perception based on perceived control. To test this, the researchers separated the participants into two groups: the in-control group and the out-of-control group. In the in-control group, the participants were given an intelligence test and were told that they were correct every time, regardless of their answers. In the out-of-control group, the participants were given the same intelligence test, but were told that they were correct only 50% of the time, regardless of their answers.

After each group was tested, they were shown meaningless images like television static. The researchers asked each group what they saw in the images. Those in the in-control group said, ‘Nothing.’ Those in the out-of-control group found all sorts of patterns, reading meaning into a meaningless picture.

With this study in mind, think of my friend, waiting for her date to call back, getting nothing but radio silence. Suddenly, her behavior makes a lot more sense.

Here, her date is in control. His call determines whether the date was a success, and whether he wants to go out again. Half the time he calls, half the time he doesn’t. Even though she doesn’t like him, she is out of control. Without feedback to hold onto, she searches for meaning and pattern.

But there’s a post-script to this study too.

In a follow-up study, the researchers asked the out-of-control group to recall a personal value that they think of as important. Afterward, when they were asked what they saw in the images, they also answered, ‘Nothing.’

One of the researchers notes in an NPR interview, “When you’re feeling powerless, maybe you should stop and think about what you really care about — something you do have control over.”

Maybe remembering the things that really matter will free you to remember: you’re just not that into him.

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